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FBI saw red over It's a Wonderful Life

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The all-American film classic It's a Wonderful Life was slammed as communist propaganda by US government officials in the 1940s.

Frank Capra’s masterwork, regularly voted one of the best film’s ever made, whose uplifting message that no life is insignificant and that family and friendship are the true measures of a man’s wealth, was considered anti-capitalist by FBI officials.

In a memo, "Communist Infiltration Of The Motion Picture Industry", officials took issue with the portrayal of capitalist antagonist Mr Potter as a Scrooge-like figure. This cast wealth and free enterprise in a negative light while promoting the triumph of the common man, a suspiciously pinko notion.

In the film, an angel helps a despairing businessman (George Bailey played by Jimmy Stewart) on the verge of suicide to realise the value of his life by showing him how awful his small town would have been if he never existed. George sacrifices his dreams of adventure for the good of all around him, frustrating the machinations of evil millionaire Potter in the process, until a misplaced loan threatens Bailey's ruin.

The memo ignores the role of businessman Sam Wainwright, who comes forward with the money that saves principal character George Bailey at the end of the film, instead preferring to argue that the film "wouldn’t have suffered at all" if Potter had been made into a more sympathetic character.

Such a notion may seem ridiculous today but the memo is a product of its times, written in the year in which the House Unamerican Activities Committee (HUAC) began investigating suspected Communist influence in Hollywood. These accusations blighted the careers of many artists, though not that of Capra. ®

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